New York City

I spent three years working in New York, and for many years after, travelled there on business. New York has never failed to fascinate. Always full of energy, diversity (walking north from Madison Square Garden for 20 blocks I would seldom hear a word of English); and not to mention its rough edges and over-the-top opulence. There are apparently 8 million stories in New York, and here are just two of them, hopefully worth your time.

The photo following is of a Mansion at 9 East 71st Street in the Lennox Hill neighbourhood of Manhattan. It recently came onto to the real estate market, with an asking price of $88,000,000.

The Mansion was commissioned to be built in 1930 by Herbert Strauss, heir to the Macy department store fortune. The listing agent, the Modlin Group, describes the Mansion thusly: “Built as New York City’s largest and most luxurious French Neo-Classical Mansion on a 50 foot wide by 102.2 foot deep lot, 7 stories and in excess of 28,000 square feet, some of the property’s luxuries include 15-foot-tall oak entry doors, imported French-limestone meticulously decorated with carvings, sculpture figures and ornamental iron works. Mr. Straus even transported antiques and fixtures along with ‘entire 18th-century rooms’ from Europe.”

There are 40 rooms, with 10 bedrooms and 15 bathrooms. I am doing the math and the math says that 15 rooms remain. I have no idea what there are – kitchen, dining room, living room, library, maid’s quarters?
Taxes are $31,000 per month.

Mr. Straus passed away in 1933, and never lived in the Mansion. It was boarded up and in 1944 it was acquired by the “Roman Catholic Archbishopric of New York as an extension of St. Claire Hospital,” and then sold to the Birch Walten School, a college preparatory day school.

Listing details conclude by stating that, “This Mansion presents a once in a life-time opportunity to own the largest single-family home in New York City. This historic landmark could easily present itself as a palatial consulate, embassy, foundation, or a museum to once again house some of the world’s greatest works of art.”

What the listing details do not state, is that the Mansion’s most recent owner was Jeffrey Epstein (below, and proving that the least of his crimes was his lack of fashion sense).

We all know the Epstein story, so it is not worth spending time on that here. As for the Mansion, there is more. It was acquired in 1989 by Les Wexner, head of the L Brands retail empire (which includes Victoria’s Secret). Subsequently, in 1998, the Mansion was purchased by Epstein, for what seems a very nominal sum. In 1991 Wexner had given Epstein power of attorney over his personal fortune, and that seemed to set Epstein on a path of massive wealth accumulation. But enough of that … I will move on.

This is Larry Kelly. By all accounts a hard-working man, close to family. Larry was an aspiring actor and playwright, who became a teacher. Later in his teaching career he went back to college to earn his master’s degree, eventually becoming a vice-principal at his high school. He and his wife Dawn lived modestly on West 92nd Street in NYC, not all that far from the Epstein Mansion, but truly a world apart.

Larry taught English and drama to mostly Black and Latino students at a Harlem high school. He coached soccer and advised the drama club and the debating team. Larry started a program with students suspended from school, pressing education authorities to credit these at-risk students to receive credit towards graduation for the work done during their “detentions.” In other words, Larry gave much more than he ever took. He retired from teaching in 2017.

On the 12th of March, after a few days of not feeling well, Larry went to an urgent care centre for a coronavirus test. Five days later, very ill, without test results in hand, and while waiting for an ambulance, he asked his wife to help him into some clean underwear (I like this guy!). He went from ambulance right into the ER.

Very quickly Larry was administered oxygen and two days later, he was intubated, put into a coma and with breathing managed through a ventilator. On the 28th of March, Dawn was asked to come to the hospital to say goodbye to Larry. He wasn’t going to make it. But he had said to Dawn as he was taken away by ambulance, “I promise I’ll never stop fighting.”

He didn’t. He suffered seizures, fever, pneumonia, lost 30 pounds and spent 51 days on the ventilator. After 128 days, on the 22nd of July, Larry was able to come home. And with his sense of humour intact. Upon receiving a hospital bill for $1.3 million, he said, ”They bring you back to life and then kill you with the bill!” (Nearly all covered by insurance).

Clafoutis aux cerises

Very timely. Cherries are here in late June and into July. Clafoutis is a classic French dessert, topped with icing sugar or it can be served with a dollop of whipping cream or ice cream. Start by heating your oven to 350 degrees F and greasing a 9 inch baking dish with a liberal amount of butter.

You will need:

One and a half cups of pitted cherries, then halved (the original recipe calls for cherries with pits, but one could lose a tooth – so I go with pitted)
4 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 tablespoon amaretto or 1 teaspoon almond extract

Spread the cherry halves on the bottom the dish.
Blend the eggs and sugar, then add the milk, flour, salt, and amaretto/extract. Pour the mixture over the cherries.
Bake for 45 minutes or until the mix is set.

Serve at room temperature, sliced as you would a pizza, with icing sugar (or with whipping cream or ice cream – the one above got ice cream).

Brioche Buns

After a visit to one of our favourite dining spots, I was inspired to create brioche buns. At Vis a Vis in Victoria I had the crispy chicken sandwich for lunch one day, followed by the breakfast sandwich the next. Both featured brioche buns, and these are so much better than the garden variety store-bought buns. Here is a recipe.

The ingredients:

2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup warm water
3/4 cup sourdough starter [See “Note” that follows]
2 eggs
2 tablespoons honey
4 – 4 1/2 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 egg beaten in a tablespoon of water for egg wash

In a large bowl mix the dry ingredients well. Separately, blend the butter, starter, eggs, honey and water. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly until a shaggy mess forms. Cover the bowl and let it sit for 12 hours.

The dough will have doubled in size. Move the dough onto a floured surface and work the dough ever so slightly into a long cylindrical shape (this may take some generous amounts of flour to eliminate the stickiness). Cut the dough into 8 to 10 equal segments and form into balls. Flour each ball and space each on parchment paper on a sheet pan. Cover with a non-terry towel and let rise for an hour.

Heat your oven to 425 degrees F, remove the towel (always a good idea), press the balls down to form buns. Brush with egg wash and bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown.

These turned out well, and ideal as burger buns as they soak up the juices.

[Note: If you don’t have starter on hand, here are the ingredients and the process:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 and 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 cups warm water

Mix the flour and yeast thoroughly in a glass or ceramic bowl. Add the water and mix thoroughly. Cover the bowl with a towel and let rest for 2 to 4 days. If after a couple of days the mixture looks dubious (orange coloured), toss it. If good, proceed making your dough. The starter will keep in your fridge for weeks or longer. When you use the starter, simply replace with flour and water. For example, if you take a cup out, replace it with a half cup of flour and a half cup of water, then stir well.]

Covid Pizza

I was almost dissuaded from calling this “Covid” pizza, as a year from now, with Covid-19 hopefully a distant memory, who will need a reminder? But for now? Let’s go with Covid. There are lots of pizza options; pickup or delivery, fresh or frozen at the supermarket; but we do have the time, so why not make pizza from scratch? And this is a good one. The image above is of the pizza that came out of our oven. The secret to good pizza is the dough. Here is the recipe.

The Dough:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup bread flour
  • 1/2 cup “00” flour (if you don’t have “00” just add 1/2 cup bread flour)
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 2 teaspoons fine salt

Mix the dry ingredients thoroughly, then add 1 1/3 cups warm water to which you have added 2 tablespoons olive oil. Mix to create a shaggy mess. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for at least 8 hours. I put the dough together at 8:00 a.m. and it was ready to go at 5:00 p.m. (You could make the dough a day ahead and stick it in the fridge, but take the dough out of the fridge a couple of hours before using.) There will be enough dough for two 10 inch pizzas.

About an hour before baking, spread your dough thinly on an oiled pizza pan and cover with a non-terry towel and let it proof for at least an hour.

Use whatever toppings you prefer, except pineapple.

For this pizza I spread tomato sauce on the dough, sprinkled a teaspoon each of oregano and basil, added some dried red pepper flakes, cracked black pepper, and chopped a cup of prosciutto that had been sautéed to just short of crispness. I covered with a generous mix of shredded mozzarella and cheddar cheese.

Bake on the lower rack of a 480 F degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes.

John Ware

There is a junior high school in Calgary, Alberta, named for John Ware. It was something I was not aware of despite having lived in Calgary for three years.

Mr. Ware was born into slavery in South Carolina in 1845. At the age of 20, with the end of the Civil War, he headed to Texas and became a cowboy. He drove cattle from Texas north into Montana, and eventually into Alberta, Canada. It was in Alberta where he settled, finding ranch work, and then homesteading around Millarville, about 25 miles from Calgary. Mr. Ware married Mildred, and following their wedding the Calgary Tribune extended its heartiest congratulations, noting that, “probably no man in the district has a greater number of warm-personal friends than the groom.” Such was John Ware, who had quickly established himself as an erstwhile member of the community and as a consummate rancher and cowboy. Here he is below, first row, second from the left, with some of his friends.

In his book “West,” the Canadian author Grant MacEwen described some of the exploits of John Ware, including, “he was powerful enough to upset a horse and hold it upside-down if a blacksmith was having trouble in shoeing …”.
As a black man in a sea of white men, Mr. Ware was no stranger to racial bias and insults. Tom Lynch was to take charge of a herd of cattle to be driven north from Idaho. He approached an experienced cattleman named Tom Morrow, who said he would only agree to do the drive into Canada if John Ware went along. Lynch’s response: “He’s a Negro.” Morrow insisted and John became a key member of the drive. Once in Canada, Lynch insisted that John Ware stay with him. Mr. Ware settled in, eventually running a thousand head of cattle and several hundred horses of his own, and earning the respect and admiration of all who knew him.

It is worth noting that Mr. Ware was known for his skill as a steer wrestler – with steer wrestling eventually finding its way into the Calgary Stampede.

It seemed timely to write about Mr. Ware, and my thanks to friend Mel, who made the suggestion.

Mount Ware (elevation just over 6000 feet), in Kananaskis country west of Calgary, is named for John Ware; as is John Ware Ridge (formerly known as “Nigger John Ridge,” and I am thinking while not appropriate, named at the time with much affection); then there is Ware Creek; and The John Ware Building at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (commonly referred to as SAIT). All of these are testimonials to Mr. Ware, who eventually outgrew his Millarville homestead and settled east of Calgary to manage his large holdings of livestock, and where he established himself as one of the best-loved and most-respected frontier pioneers. During his lifetime, the face of the prairie changed; in the year of his death more than 30,000 homestead entries were made in the newly created province of Alberta.

The truth about Mr. Ware is no less epic than the myths. He pioneered new agricultural techniques at his ranches, including irrigation development. He walked across the backs of cattle in crowded stockyards. He once confronted a racist Calgary bartender by throwing him over the counter and, “served drinks to everybody.”

It is ironic that in September 1905, considering his talent as a rancher and a horseman, John Ware was killed when his horse stumbled in a badger hole and fell on him.

Presiding over his funeral service, the Baptist minister said of Mr. Ware, (and I am quoting here from MacEwan’s book); “He convinced me that black is a beautiful colour, one that is reserved for God’s most cheerful people. The one whose remains we bury today was indeed one of God’s gentlemen. His example and message on brotherhood should be entrenched in our hearts.”

John Ware accomplished so much in a little more than 20 years living in Alberta. No surprise then that he received so much praise, and as a final testimonial, Canada Post in 2012 issued a stamp in his honour.

French Baguette

These are typical baguettes – crusty, pointy at the ends, soft, airy interiors – delicious. The perfect breakfast in France is ham and cheese on a buttered, freshly baked baguette, with café au lait on the side. Not that you would eat the whole baguette.

The recipe following is my attempt at the baguette. It works quite well.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 and 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1 and 1/3 cups of room temperature water (stirring in a tablespoon of liquid honey)

Mix the dry ingredients thoroughly in a large bowl, then add the water/honey. Mix to form a gooey mess. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap (and the lid if available) and let sit for at least 12 hours.

Now, if you have one of these – a baguette baking sheet, (12 bucks at our local kitchen store) – you are all set. Remove your dough from the bowl onto a well-floured surface. Work the dough a bit with your well-floured fingers, before cutting the dough into two equal parts. Roll each part into a long thin cylinder and place onto your baking sheet (sprayed with Pam). Cover the sheet with a towel and allow the dough to rise for at least another hour. If you don’t have a baguette baking sheet you can use a sheet pan, lightly oiled.

Put a pan of water on the top shelf of your oven and heat the oven to 450 degrees F. Score each loaf with a utility knife (four scores), place on the rack below and bake for at least 30 minutes or until golden brown.

This is the result. Not quite Paris good, but good nonetheless.

De-miners

The Canadian taxpayer foots the bill for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), and it is a bill worth footing … well … maybe for CBC Radio. As noted in an earlier “blogue” a favourite is “The Sunday Edition,” hosted by Michael Enright.

I have made mention that “The Sunday Edition,” may surprise with its range of topics, and this past Sunday proved the point. There was a segment on “De-miners” – specialists who are at work in the Falkland Islands – charged with the task of removing thousands of land mines. The mines were laid by Argentine forces during the 1982 Falklands War. The anti-personnel and anti-tank mines totalled some 30,000, and were manufactured in a number of countries. With respect to anti-personnel mines, a mere 5 kilograms of weight can set one off. Penguins that are so common to the Falkland Islands come in under 5 kilos – but sheep are another thing. Given that there are 500 thousand sheep in the Falklands, ewe can imagine the number of casualties.

Below: Falkland penguins. They have chosen to ignore the dangers.
There are two major parts to the typical anti-personnel mine, with a detonator sitting atop an explosive device. Metal detectors are used to locate the mines, which are dug up by hand using a garden trowel. The detonator is unscrewed from the lower portion of the mine, which is then taken away for safe explosion.

The Falklands comprise an archipelago that lies some 500 kilometres from Argentina, and roughly 1200 kilometres from the northern-most tip of Antarctica. The population is just over 3,000 (which works out to more than 150 sheep per inhabitant). Most Falkland Islanders are native born and are of British descent.

The Islands are self-governing, but as a British overseas territory, the U.K. is responsible for defence and foreign affairs.

Beautiful, but cold and windy, and far enough away from the rest of the world; the Falklands might seem forbidding. The Islands were discovered in the 16th century, and have had French, British, Spanish and Argentine settlements. Although the British asserted their rule over the Falklands in 1833, Argentina has long laid claim to its “Islas Malvinas.” In 1982 Argentine forces invaded the Falklands, prompting the government of British Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher to spring to action. An “undeclared war” spanned 74 days, with 907 casualties (649 of them Argentine military personnel), with British sovereignty restored. There is much to the history of the Falklands and to the Falklands War, but I will leave that for your own study. Back to the de-miners.

The Falklands de-miners are Zimbabweans. During the fight for independence in the 1970s, a string of land mines was laid along the then Rhodesian border with Mozambique. With independence Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, and with that the need to develop a team of highly skilled de-miners. Since that time, the Zimbabwean de-miners have been employed in numerous conflict zones, including Angola, Kosovo, Lebanon, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo, to remove land mines.

Above, a Zimbabwean de-miner at work in the Falklands (where they are called “Zims”). They are well protected with armoured suits and face shields, and to my knowledge, there have been no fatalities among the Zims as they de-fuse the Falkland mines. Despite the fact that in 2018, some one million square metres of land still had to be cleared of mines, the work is scheduled to be completed in 2020. Argentina has never given up its claims to the Falklands, even now, almost 40 years after the “War.” My thought: let the Argentines have their piece of the Falklands – one million square metres.

A word or two about Michael Enright. At the end of June, 2020, Michael will depart “The Sunday Edition,” after 20 years as its host. “ The Sunday Edition” will remain in place, but it will not be the same without Michael, who will move on to host another CBC radio program, currently in development. Here he is in 2013 receiving the Order of Canada from the country’s then Governor General, David Johnston.

Cabbage and Egg Pie

Breakfast for dinner? Why not?

Here is a quick and easy recipe that gives cabbage some flavour. 
Cut a small cabbage in half, core it, then slice thinly.  Put the 1/2 cabbage 
in a large bowl.  Slice a white onion thinly and add to the cabbage.  Mix in a
 teaspoon of salt and 4 tablespoons of flour.  Crack four large eggs and 
whisk together with 3 tablespoons of sour cream and add to the cabbage.
  Mix thoroughly.

Put the mixture in a non-stick skillet that you have sprayed with Pam.
  Cook on low/medium heat for 10 minutes or so. The bottom will be nicely 
browned.  It will look something like this (above).

Once solidified take what now looks like a cabbage omelet and flip it over 
into a cast iron skillet (again sprayed with Pam).  Add some crumpled,
 almost crisp bacon to the top, along with a cup of shredded cheddar 
cheese. Bake in a 350 F degree oven for 20 minutes.

Salt and pepper and maybe some hot sauce to taste at serving.

Fred Willard

Fred Willard passed away on May 15, at the age of 86. I was sorry for his passing, but then it struck me that his legacy has been recorded for all time and for all of us to see. I have been a Fred fan since his appearance as Martin Mull’s sidekick, as Jerry Hubbard, in “Fernwood 2 Night” – a parody of talk shows – that ran in 1977. Much more recently he appeared largely in cameos in “Modern Family,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” the “Anchorman” movies, and all too briefly in “Space Force,” which Netflix debuts on May 29. But it remains the Christopher Guest “mockumentaries” where Fred Willard’s comedic genius truly became apparent. Guest co-wrote, directed and starred in “Waiting for Guffman,” “A Mighty Wind,” “Mascots,” “For Your Consideration” and “Best in Show,” each of which featured recurring cast members, including Fred Willard. And it was Fred who generally stole each movie. He was at his best in “Best In Show,” as Buck Laughlin (below), the colour commentator paired with Jim Piddock playing Trevor Beckwith. “Best in Show” parodied elaborate dog shows, with Beckwith as an expert on dogs, and Fred’s character, who knew absolutely nothing of dogs, coming up with gems like these:

“It’s sad to think, when you look at how beautiful these dogs are, that in some countries these dogs are eaten.”,

“Now tell me, which of these dogs would you want to have as your wide receiver on your football team?”

At one point he asks Beckwith to guess how much he (Buck) can bench press, and makes the observation about miniature schnauzers, that “you’d think they’d want to breed ‘em bigger wouldn’t you?”

Martin Mull, an admirer of Fred’s improvisation abilities, said that Fred did not have a turn signal. Well put.

And Steve Carell (below), with whom Fred worked on “Space Force,” said that after a single 5 minute improvised take on the set of “Space Force,” the crew gave Fred a standing ovation.

Christopher Guest said of Fred, with obvious admiration, “He has this Fred energy, which is not like anyone else’s in the world. Fred is from another place. Unfortunately, we don’t know where that is.”

Guest, born in the U.K., is the 5th Baron, Haden-Guest, and a British peer. He is also married to Jamie Lee Curtis (Lord Haden-Guest and Ms. Curtis, aka The Right Honourable Lady Haden-Guest, below). Ms. Curtis said of Fred, ”How lucky we all are that we got to witness his great gifts.”

Fred had received many accolades and awards over the years, but when asked what his greatest accomplishment was, he responded, “teaching my daughter how to catch a fly ball.”

Seahorses

I was listening with rapt attention to CBC radio’s “The Early Edition,” a program that originates in British Columbia. The host was interviewing Dr. Amanda Vincent, a marine biologist at the University of British Columbia (UBC), who was just proclaimed winner of the prestigious Indianapolis Prize for her work in protecting seahorses.

Apparently what prompted Dr. Vincent’s early interest in seahorses is the fact that it is the male seahorse that becomes pregnant and gives birth. Here we are having just celebrated Mother’s Day, and now comes this bit of good news for mothers everywhere that a male has finally stepped up.

From that beginning, Dr. Vincent, a professor at the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries at UBC, has become a leading authority on seahorses, having studied them in 38 countries. She directs Project Seahorse, and through her efforts, conservation initiatives have been taken to protect seahorses from illegal trade.

According to the CBC report, in 2002, Dr. Vincent helped to persuade the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to adopt milestone legislation to limit global seahorse trade to sustainable and legal exports. And in 2018, in a media release from UBC, it was announced that countries that previously exported 96 per cent of dried seahorses have suspended trade in the animals.

For these and other conservation initiatives, Dr. Vincent was awarded the Indianapolis Prize for 2020. The Prize is awarded every two years by the Indianapolis Zoo and its $250,000 cash award is underwritten by The Eli Lilly Foundation. In a selection process conducted by internationally known conservationists, there is a review of the achievements of six conservation scientists prior to naming the Prize recipient. Dr. Vincent joins impressive company, including Dr. Patricia Wright, who won the Prize in 2014 for her work in protecting the lemurs of Madagascar.

Dr. Vincent above. When asked how she would use her winnings, she responded, “I’m going to treat a lot of people who have made a difference and contributed and supported our conservation work over the years.” And she said she would buy an electric bike.

In any other award year, the Prize would be given at a gala (which sounds like a real party) in Indianapolis. That will have to wait. But congratulations to Dr. Vincent!

And what of seahorses? They are fish, and vary in size from about a half inch to more than a foot in length. Seahorses swim vertically, and are adept at camouflage – helping to protect them from predators, as seahorses are rather poor swimmers. The female deposits her eggs (1,000 or more) in the male’s pouch, with gestation spanning 10 to 45 days. The offspring are quite small.

These stunning creatures are at risk, as too often they are swept up as by-catch, especially by ocean trawlers that pick up any type of marine life while targeting only a few. Millions of seahorses are lost each year as by-catch, but are also captured for souvenirs, for personal aquariums, or to be dried for use as traditional medicines.